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TOH!’s Top Ten Films of 2014 (Updated)

TOH!'s Top Ten Films of 2014 (Updated)

2014 was a remarkable year for movies big and small, and in spirit, here are top 10 lists from Thompson on Hollywood staffers and contributors.

Anne Thompson:

1. “Birdman”
Alejandro González Iñárritu took on the most audacious cinematic feat of the year —and corralled a posse of actors with balls, lead by Michael Keaton, Edward Norton and Emma Stone, to nail his dissection of Hollywood and the fragile balance between ego and id—shot in exhilarating long takes.

2. “Boyhood”
Richard Linklater dreamed up the story of a boy growing over 12 years, from six to 18, and cast Ellar Coltrane as the kid and Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke as his parents. No one else could have conceived, written and directed this daredevil feat.
 3. “Mr. Turner”
Mike Leigh took his genius method and applied it to his passion project about the great English painter JMW Turner, channeled to perfection by Cannes Best Actor winner Timothy Spall. This movie is about balancing art and commerce, loneliness and love, inspiration and achievement.

4. “Nymphomaniac” Volumes 1 & 2
Lars von Trier, no matter what controlled substances he’s on, is never predictable and always provocative, daring and visually compelling. Over two parts, title character Charlotte Gainsbourg and her virginal interlocutor Stellan Skarsgard dig into the sad and damaged soul of a woman who can’t get enough sex.

5. “Only Lovers Left Alive”
Jim Jarmusch delivers his best movie in decades, a vampire love story sent in the noirish ruins of Detroit and the narrow alleys of Tangier. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston define cool and sexy, and we’ve never seen Mia Wasikowska as delightfully devilish.

6. “Ida”
This stunning black and white examination of post-holocaust Poland is impeccably wrought by Pawel Pawlikowski, with wit and wisdom.

7. “Selma”
No one but Ava DuVernay could have wrangled this slice of the history of Martin Luther King in Selma, Alabama, balancing his behind the scenes struggles with the high stakes for the Freedom Fighters and his strategic negotiations with President Lyndon Baines Johnson (Tom Wilkinson). David Oyelowo’s performance is towering —and Oscar worthy.

8. “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Writer-director Wes Anderson advances his controlled precision to a new level as he reinvents a lost European world of ornate hotels, fawning concierges, rich patrons and madcap merriment. Ralph Fiennes carries the delicious concoction with aplomb.

9. “Wild Tales”
Writer-director Damián Szifrón collects a set of six stories with one through-line: humans over-reacting to bad things with vengeful acting out on a grand scale that everyone can relate to, laugh at and enjoy.

10. “Beyond the Lights”
Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love and Basketball”) insisted on casting Gugu Mbatha-Raw as a pop singer in search of her real identity in “Beyond the Lights.” She resists her stage mother (Minnie Driver) and listens to the cop who falls in love with her (Nate Parker). Prince-Bythewood did the right thing.

Best Actor: Tom Hardy “Locke”
Best Actress: Felicity Jones “The Theory of Everything”
Best Adapted Screenplay: “The Imitation Game”
Best Animated Movie: “How to Train Your Dragon 2”
Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki “Birdman”
Best Director: AG Iñárritu “Birdman”
Best Documentary: Wim Wenders and Juliano R. Salgado “The Salt of the Earth”
Best Original Screenplay: “Boyhood”
Best Supporting Actor: JK Simmons “Whiplash”
Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette “Boyhood”
Best Unreleased Film: “Stray Dog”
Worst Film of Year: “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”

Actresses who had a strong 2014:
Emily Blunt (“Edge of Tomorrow” and “Into the Woods”)
Jessica Chastain (“Interstellar,” “A Most Violent Year,” “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby,” “Miss Julie”)
Lindsay Duncan (“Le Weekend,” “Birdman”)
Angelina Jolie (she followed her starring role in “Maleficent” –$751 million worldwide– by directing $65-million Louis Zamperini biopic “Unbroken”)
Scarlett Johansson (“Lucy,” “Under the Skin,” “Chef,” “Captain America: Winter Soldier”)
Keira Knightley (“The Imitation Game,” “Begin Again,” “Laggies”—“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” was not her fault)
Julianne Moore (Best Actress at Cannes for “Maps to the Stars,” “Still Alice”)
Tilda Swinton (“Only Lovers Left Alive,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Snowpiercer”)
Mia Wasikowska (“Tracks,” “Maps to the Stars,” “Only Lovers Left Alive”)
Reese Witherspoon (“Wild,” producing “Gone Girl”)

Actors who had a strong 2014:

Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Imitation Game,” “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,” “Penguins of Madagascar,” TV’s “Sherlock”)
Logan Lerman (“Noah,” “Fury”)
John Lithgow (“Interstellar,” “The Homesman,” “Love is Strange”)
Jack O’Connell (“Starred Up,” ’71,” “Unbroken”)
Robert Pattinson (“The Rover” and “Maps to the Stars”)
Brad Pitt (“Fury,” executive producer of “The Normal Heart,” “Fury” and “Selma”)
Mark Ruffalo (TV’s “The Normal Heart,” “Begin Again,” “Foxcatcher,” “Infinitely Polar Bear”)
Channing Tatum (“Foxcatcher,” “22 Jump Street,” “The Book of Life,” “The Lego Movie”)

Breakout filmmakers of 2014:

Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”), Dan Gilroy (“Nightcrawler”), Christopher Miller and Phil Lord (“22 Jump Street,” “The LEGO Movie”), Gillian Robespierre (“Obvious Child”), Justin Simien (“Dear White People”).

Ryan Lattanzio:

1. “Gone Girl” (dir. David Fincher)
The kinkiest, cruelest, most subversive studio movie to emerge from Hollywood since “No Country For Old Men,” “Gone Girl” is a match made in misanthropy hell for cold, calculating director David Fincher and the wicked imagination of Gillian Flynn. It took me three viewings to finally understand that this is a comedy, but each time, that hopeless, deflating ending brings everything into sickeningly sharp focus. I find it strangely romantic.

2. “Force Majeure” (dir. Ruben Ostlund)
An archly comic, discomfiting vivisection of the male ego that, given the film’s chilly, alpine terrain as a setting for the combustion of the nuclear family, feels something like “The Shining” by way of Jacques Tati’s detached amusement.

3. “The Congress” (dir. Ari Folman)
Surely the most ambitious movie of the year, this gorgeous, all-too-real live-action/animated chimera is as pro-cinema as it is anti-Hollywood, offering a gloomy but faintly hopeful prophecy bursting with visual brio and a knockout performance by Robin Wright as many versions of herself.

4. “The Blue Room” (dir. Mathieu Amalric)
Director/star/co-writer Amalric achieves pure cinema, conjuring William Carlos Williams’ axiom of poem-writing, “No ideas but in things” by showing, not telling, the jagged fragments of a steamy affair gone horribly and perhaps criminally awry.

5. “The Immigrant” (dir. James Gray)
Marion Cotillard’s heavenly performance as a Polish immigrant who comes to America with her arms full of dreams, only to understand quickly that those dreams sour, affirms that she is the greatest living actress working today—and that James Gray’s passion project was a sorely missed opportunity for The Weinstein Company, who dropped the ball on this majestic movie.

6. “Inherent Vice” (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
Words like “loose,” “freewheeling” and “groovy” barely scratch the surface of PTA’s twisty stoner noir, an unruly, sprawling panorama of doped-up lowlives that features the single best scene of 2014, a sexy-creepy long take in which the director makes the elusive Pynchon novel fully his own strange wildebeest.

7. “Ida” (dir. Pawel Pawlikowski)
What’s left to say about “Ida,” that rare breed of sophisticated arthouse drama that has enchanted us all? While harking back to yesteryear’s art films, it still feels thoroughly modern, featuring two of the best screen performances, well, ever. Female or otherwise.

8. “Boyhood” (dir. Richard Linklater)
We’re lucky to have a movie like “Boyhood,” an overflowingly generous masterpiece that avoids all cliche or sentimental excess, and lives and breathes the rhythms of everyday life. “I just thought there’d be more.”

9. “Under the Skin” (dir. Jonathan Glazer)
While this succubus-from-space odyssey contains stretches of longueur I can’t quite forgive, there are images here that you’ve simply never seen before, and probably never will again, and for that we have to commend this ambitious and haunting cinematic achievement.

10. “Maps to the Stars” (dir. David Cronenberg)
I love every stupid moment of this sick, twisted, nasty little movie (which had a tiny qualifying run in LA this month) that has been misinterpreted as satire—it’s not. It’s a dead-serious, pitch-black ghost story and, sure, it’s tonally a mess, but I loved writhing in the filth of writer Bruce Wagner’s Hollywood rock-bottom, a demimonde of deluded pill-swilling actresses, schizophrenic burn victims, incest families and drug-addicted child stars. In other words, home sweet home for director David Cronenberg.

Also great: “Coherence” (James Ward Byrkit), “Interstellar” (Christopher Nolan), “Test” (Chris Mason Johnson), “Mommy” (Xavier Dolan), “Stranger By The Lake” (Alain Guiraudie), “Actress” (Robert Greene), “Norte, The End of History” (Lav Diaz), “Borgman” (Alex van Warmerdam), “Night Moves” (Kelly Reichardt), “A Field in England” (Ben Wheatley), “The Homesman” (Tommy Lee Jones)

Best Actress: Elisabeth Moss, “Listen Up Philip” and Marion Cotillard, “The Immigrant” and Anne Dorval, “Mommy” Best Actor: Jake Gyllenhaal, “Nightcrawler” and Haluk Bilginer, “Winter Sleep” Best Director: Jonathan Glazer, “Under the Skin” Best Cinematography: “Love Is Strange,” Christos Voudouris Best Screenplay: “Gone Girl,” Gillian Flynn Best Score: “The Congress,” Max Richter

Tom Brueggemann:

2014 (including a handful of 2013 festival shown films) turned out to be a rich, diverse year, but only if one ventured beyond the weekly Top 10 at the box office or most of the underwhelming English-language awards entries. This year end has included the craziest patterns of awards qualifying runs ever. Excluded from consideration were any films that opened in New York or Los Angeles (the latter more common) without review presence (most specifically apparently both “Mommy” and “Maps to the Stars”).

No runners up, since they might total 30 or more – it was a solid year. In fairness, many could be considered interchangeable with a few on the list. Included among them are many fine documentaries, though my enthusiasm for some of the most highly touted is a bit less than from many others.

1. “Goodbye to Language 3D” (Jean-Luc GODARD, Switzerland-2014)

 In Godard’s seminal “2 or 3 Things I Know About Her,” a son asks “What is language?” His mother replies, “It is the house we live in.” With the late-life film, Godard says farewell to that house, with its brilliant, playful use of language surpassed by the master’s original take on 3D which includes a moment that ranks with the tram appearance in the woods in “Sunrise” as the most breathtaking in my lifetime of viewing. This will take multiple viewings (difficult with the essential 3D), but among my top resolutions for 2015 is to try.

2. “Ida” (Pawel PAWLIKOWSKI, Poland – 2013)

Sometimes I worry that my strong response to “Ida” comes out of nostalgia for a bygone era of more rigorous, black and white European films that in much different styles from Bresson, Dreyer, Rossellini and sometimes Bergman. That would be ironic, since there is little else nostalgic about this 1960s Polish-set story that brings together a disparate aunt and niece, both devoted to their rigid lives and neither seeming content with them. How they affect each other is one core of the story, but the blistering portrayal of the stunted Communist society and its careful attention to period detail all are strongly rendered. A climactic scene in a hotel room ranks as one of the most shocking and brilliantly staged in recent years. That this somehow managed to gross almost $4 million in North America is the most encouraging box office development of 2014.

3. “Two Days, One Night” (Jean-Pierre DARDENNE, Luc DARDENNE, Belgium – 2014)

Though similar to most of the Dardennes’ previous work (perhaps contributing to what seems to be a more muted response at Cannes and since), for me this is their most immediate and compelling film. It’s tragic that even if the outstanding Marion Cotillard gets further awards traction it will reach few Americans outside the art house crowd. It speaks to current universal working class employment issues without an ounce of the unavoidable condescension that would have been unavoidable this side of the far less cinematic John Sayles.

4. “Leviathan” (Andrey ZVYAGINTSEV, Russia – 2014)

A miracle of a film, coming from Putin’s Russia and in compelling and tragic fashion giving a clear view of life in that society today. Combining almost novelistic narrative with equally strong visuals it reveals daily life in a bleak corner of that country to great tragic dramatic effect. This might be the bravest film of the year among many brave films.

5. “Snowpiercer” – BONG Joon-ho, South Korea – 2013

It took a Korean director working in a Central European studio to create perhaps the best (broadly defined) comic based movie in the current cycle. Then its distributor lost faith in its broad appeal and assigned it to undeserved lesser cult status with much more limited theatrical viewing . Both fun and thematically rich, it is the kind of broad-based popular appeal film that should have reached a wider audience.

6. “Locke” – Stephen KNIGHT, United Kingdom – 2014

In a year when awards attention once again is mainly focused on Oscar-bait biopics, Tom Hardy’s solo (at least in physical presence) performance as an high-powered construction foreman juggling multiple life crises while driving to London to deal with one of them anchored the year’s top thriller. Hardy’s mastery is matched by Stephen Knight’s achievement in creating a nail-biting drama all within the confines of a vividly realized front seat of a BMW.

7. “Venus in Fur” – Roman POLANSKI, France – 2013

Polanski, one of three 80-something directors in top form of late (along with Godard, Clint Eastwood made by far his best film since “Gran Torino” with his fine “American Sniper”), made this self-lacerating comic portrayal of an egomaniacal stage director auditioning actresses for his new play. Look-alike Mathieu Amalric is brilliant in his caricature of Polanski, with Emmannuelle Seigneur(the director’s wife) playing the not overly talented but very self-confident actress. Though it is nearly all set within one enclosed empty theater (claustrophobic space a frequent Polanski device), the energetic mise-en-scene shows Polanski still at the top of his game.

8. “Winter Sleep” – Nuri Bilge CEYLAN, Turkey – 2014

Though not quite the equal of his “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia”, Ceylan’s 195 minute Palme d’or winner is ultimately a masterful story of a marriage gone bad, but much more than just that. It builds up steam slowly (amid a riveting portrayal of life and unequal social structure in desolate Eastern Turkey, a world apart from their most recent Istanbul home, where the husband had some mid-level acting success) until its powerful final hour strips bare its seemingly sympathetic Westernized central couple.

9. “Nightcrawler” – Dan GILROY, United States – 2014

As someone for whom both “Network” and “Crash” are bombastic overrated films, it was thrilling to see a somewhat similar effort where the core of its equally strong topical message was conveyed cinematically more than just stick figures speechifying. Debut director (and veteran writer) Dan Gilroy and the brilliant cinematography by Robert Elswit created a visually powerful film that will stand as a time-capsule capturing contemporary Los Angeles at its ugliest.

10. “Gone Girl” – David FINCHER, United States – 2014

An imperfect film, which is perhaps its most interesting element, since its director strives for perfection. I have yet to decide how in control Fincher was of the tone in the last act (he claims it was total), but whatever the case, at a time when few studio wide releases stick in one’s mind moments after seeing them, this lingers longer after. How the brilliant ensemble here manages not to get noted by those who rank these things is baffling.

Performances of the year (I reject the concept of male acting or female acting being divided; I’m not aware of any classes on male or female acting – these for me are the two best): Mathieu Amalric in “Venus in Fur” & Melisa Sozen in “Winter Sleep”

Matt Brennan: 

1. “Under the
:  Jonathan Glazer’s startling third feature, ten
years removed from the unsettling, unsung “Birth,” is an otherworldly
communication built from worrisome noises and pinpricks of light. Starring Scarlet
Johansson as a woman who turns out to be something other than what she seems,
the narrative proceeds in much the same way that skin crawls or a shiver
travels up the spine, in tingling bursts of dark energy. I cannot tell you what
it means, nor even adequately describe what happens, but the film leaves an
indelible impression. Indeed, while its aesthetic bears little resemblance to
the melancholic formalism of “Birth” and the brute force of
“Sexy Beast” (2000), “Under the Skin” is equally spellbinding:
it confirms Glazer as a chronicler of desire’s inexplicable recesses, and as a
filmmaker of the first order.

: By contrast, Richard Linklater’s tender glimpse into
an American adolescence chronicles life’s most familiar rhythms. Though its emotional
muscle may stem from the fact that the coming of age narrative practically
screams “this is your life,” “Boyhood” embraces the
everyday by investing its faded reality with a kind of childlike wonder. Patricia
Arquette is heartbreaking as Mason’s mother, and watching Ellar Coltrane’s
development as an actor parallel Mason’s as a young man is an unexpected
delight, but the film’s brilliance ultimately resides in Linklater’s sense that
living is a profoundly creative act, much like “Boyhood” itself.

3. “The Grand
Budapest Hotel”
: A parallel history of twentieth century Europe,
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” rummages through the interwar years, the
Prague Spring, and perestroika to find the perfect subject for Wes Anderson’s
tattered, whimsical style: the slipperiness of time. At once murder mystery,
buddy movie, and love story, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” follows
elegant concierge Gustave H. (the superb Ralph Fiennes) and lobby boy Zero
Moustafa (Tony Revolori) as they caper about in the fictional Republic of
Zubrowka, but even the wonders of the Old World eventually turn to dust. “There’s
really no point in doing anything in life, because it’s all over in the blink
of an eye,” Gustave laments. “The next thing you know, rigor mortis
sets in.”

4. “Ida”:
Against Anderson’s confection, “Ida” reprises the history of Europe’s
bloodlands as though the line between memory and reality were thinner than a
still photograph. The crisp, painstaking black-and-white compositions, some of
the most striking in the recent cinema, lend the titular nun’s journey through
Poland in 1962 a sort of crooked clarity. Traveling to find the unmarked grave
in which her parents were buried, Ida (Agata Trzebuchowska) is not complicit in
the crimes of World War II or the Communist regime  — she grew up in a Catholic orphanage — but
neither is she able to confront the past face to face. In Pawel Pawlikowski’s
austere, mesmerizing portrait, those who can find themselves doomed by what they

5. “The
: In retrospect, The Weinstein Company’s decision to scuttle
“The Immigrant” with a pro forma theatrical release is the year’s
foremost disappointment. James Gray’s sumptuously appointed depiction of a
Polish immigrant (Marion Cotillard) battered by seedy, corrupt circuits of
power in Prohibition-era New York is larger than life, and demands to be seen
as such. Even so, the film, available on Netflix, retains its bleak strength in
the smaller format; as Cotillard’s Ewa navigates between a cruel pimp (Joaquin
Phoenix) and his illusionist cousin (Jeremy Renner), “The Immigrant” registers
as a grimly beautiful American epic. 

6. “Snowpiercer”:
Adapted from the French graphic novel “Le Transperceneige,” Bong
Joon-ho’s post-apocalyptic fiction confines the catastrophe of technocratic
politics to a moving train and emerges as a visionary portrait of late
capitalism’s last throes. As a band of rebels from society’s lowest caste
presses on toward “the sacred engine,” confronting brief, memorable
performances from Tilda Swinton and Alison Pill in the process, Bong transforms
each successive car into a new frontier. Seascapes, teahouses, classrooms, and
discotheques come to resemble waking dreams, and “Snowpiercer” hurtles
headlong into our privatized future with visual wit and wild humor. Class
warfare never felt so good. 

7. “A Most
Wanted Man”
: In this finely wrought espionage drama, Hamburg,
Germany’s wintry chill seeps down to the bone; desperate drunks slump forward
in smoky bars; and the jagged edge of the “War on Terror” leaves a
patchwork quilt of scars. At the heart of the narrative is German intelligence
analyst Günther Bachmann, played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffmann as a
compromised soul, worn away by his own participation in a conflict with no end.
One of the actor’s final performances, it counts among his finest: in his
hands, Bachmann’s bruising confrontation with the futility of it all is enough
to tear you asunder.  

8. “Life
: A lovely, funny, ragged, even cruel meeting of word and image
worthy of its famed subject, Steve James’ documentary portrait of Roger Ebert keenly
understands the film critic first and foremost as a master craftsman. Hearing
Ebert’s writing in his own voice, as if to restore what his illness stole, is a
potent reminder of the humane precision that defined his work for more than
four decades. He may not have been the most ornate stylist or the most committed
theorist, but Ebert was an impassioned advocate for film art as moral
imperative, and “Life Itself” is a graceful tribute to that legacy.

9. “Obvious
: Donna Stern needs an abortion. That “Obvious Child”
manages to find both a sweet, apprehensive romance and a salty comedy of
millennial manners in that simple premise is credit to writer/director Gillian
Robespierre’s sparking intelligence and star Jenny Slate’s unassuming charm. Donna,
confessional comedian and self-described “horrible woman,” isn’t a
responsible heroine of the Judd Apatow school, which is exactly why the film’s
sensitive treatment of her decision seems so novel. There’s no judgment in
“Obvious Child,” only the risky, frank humor of an old friend, and
the recognition that no one has it quite so easy as we might imagine.  

10. “The One I
: To reveal the premise of “The One I Love” is to ruin
the fun, so you’ll just have to trust me when I say that director Charlie McDowell’s
debut feature is an ingenious twist on the Hollywood romance. As Ethan (Mark
Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) face the end of their marriage at a
sprawling California estate, the ideal relationship begins to seem a “cosmic
aberration,” or perhaps a trap. The juxtaposition of the winsome,
naturalistic performances with the enigmatic narrative suggests that love surpasses
understanding, yet for all its mystery “The One I Love” meets us
where we live, at the border between self and other.

Beth Hanna

1. “Two Days, One Night” (dirs. Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne)
2. “Ida” (dir. Pawel Pawlikowski)
3. “Starred Up” (dir. David Mackenzie)
4. “Gone Girl” (dir. David Fincher)
5. “Jimmy P.” (dir. Arnaud Desplechin)
6. “Red Army” (dir. Gabe Polsky)
7. “The Homesman” (dir. Tommy Lee Jones)
8. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (dir. Wes Anderson)
9. “Only Lovers Left Alive” (dir. Jim Jarmusch)
10. “Godzilla” (dir. Gareth Edwards)

Justin Lowe

In alphabetical order:

“Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Michael Keaton soars in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s one-take comedic drama. 

Brendan Gleeson’s humor and compassion astound throughout the second installment of John Michael McDonagh’s darkly comic Irish trilogy. Thirds anyone? 

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes 
Matt Reeves’ revelatory sequel demonstrates how to profitably sustain a franchise reboot. 

Dear White People 
Maverick writer-director Justin Simien recalls that comedy is the best form of subversion in this sly send-up. 

Inherent Vice 
Paul Thomas Anderson’s atmospheric ode to 70s indulgence and paranoia. Dude, where’d I leave my mind? 

Christopher Nolan reaches for eternity and gives us the stars in his highly distinctive sci-fier. 

The Lego Movie 
Blink and you’ll miss some of the most entertaining comedy of the year in this manic animated pastiche. 

Dan Gilroy’s astonishingly accomplished directorial debut represents social commentary writ large for the media-obtuse. 

“Salt of the Earth” 
Veteran German director Wim Wenders’ evocative tribute to one of his generation’s most accomplished artists – social-issue photographer Sebastiao Salgado (co-directed by the photographer’s son, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado). 

“Two Days, One Night” 
The Dardenne brothers let Marion Cotillard shine as only they can in this compelling domestic drama.

Matt Mueller:

1. Boyhood (dir. Richard
The family drama doesn’t always scintillate but the experience of
watching someone grow up before your eyes on screen is hypnotizing and, dare I
say it, a little bit mystical.

2. Force Majeure (dir. Ruben
dark comedy about the pricked male ego and an imploding Swedish family sits at
the pinnacle of satisfyingly discomfiting viewing. I almost felt guilty how
much I laughed at was transpiring on screen. 

3. Under The Skin (dir. Jonathan
Only three features to his name but all of them doozies. After “Sexy Beast” and “Birth,” this is Glazer’s creepiest yet, a spare sci-fi chiller propelled
by Johansson’s methodical turn, an intoxicating score by first-time composer
Mica Levi and unforgettable imagery. 

Whiplash (dir. Damien
Chazelle shoots this sado-masochistic battle of wits
like he’s making “Die Hard 5” rather than a drama set in a prestigious music
conservatoire. Disturbingly intense, and J.K. Simmons’ “Full Metal Jacket” turn
deserves an avalanche of awards.

5. Stranger By The Lake (dir.
Alain Giraudie)
For Guiraudie, explicit sex serves as the jumping-off point for
an unsettling, intellectually rigorous exploration into the risk-taking compulsion
that often drives desire. 

6. The Grand Budapest Hotel
(dir. Wes Anderson)
This lingered in my memory throughout the year. When I
watched it a second time two weeks ago, its place as my favourite Wes Anderson
movie ever was cemented for good.

The Two Faces Of January
(dir. Hossein Amini)
On his first trip behind the camera, Amini squeezes
maximum tension out of one of Patricia Highsmith’s lesser-known novels using a
fine cast, elegant visuals and old-fashioned suspense-thriller tropes.

Birdman (dir. Alejandro
Gonzalez Inarritu)
The combo of Michael Keaton in fiery comeback mode,
Inarritu and Emmanuel Lubezki’s ingenious “one-take” staging and nifty support
work from Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone and Andrea
Riseborough helped this backstage satire surpass the sum of its parts. 

9. The Babadook (dir.
Jennifer Kent)
creepy storybook effects and fantastic performances from actress Essie Davis
and child actor Noah Wiseman (how can that poor kid not be plagued by
nightmares after this?), this Australian film is the best and most original frightfest
in years.

10. Mommy (dir. Xavier Dolan)
one believes in Dolan’s talent more than Dolan himself, but credit where
credit’s due: the Quebecois tyro’s adoration of cinema, actresses and pop music
shines through in this giddy, exhilirating trip through a difficult mother-son

Best Actor: Brendan Gleeson, “Calvary”

Best Actress: Essie Davis, “The

Best Director: Jonathan Glazer, “Under
The Skin”

Best Adapted Screenplay: Hossein Amini, “The Two
Faces Of January”

Best Original Screenplay: John Michael McDonagh, “Calvary”

Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, “Birdman”

Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”

Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette,


Susan Wloszczyna

One measure whether a film is worthy of top 10 inclusion? Whether you could watch again and observe new revelations with a repeat viewing. These titles all qualify and then some.

1. Ida. I am an unabashed sucker for nun movies. But this haunting Polish entry into the genre is so eloquent in its silence, so mesmerizing in its foggy black-and-white photography and so devastating in its plot turns (along with being backed by two of the best female performances of the year) that it reminds you that cinema truly can be art.

2. Mr. Turner. I am rarely happier than when I am in an art gallery. But Mike Leigh’s biopic about the irascible British landscape master, captured in all his grunting complexity by the wonderful Timothy Spall, as he copes with advancing age does so much more than present a greatest hits collection of his work. Instead, the film actually looks like a Turner painting for most of its running time. It is the rare period piece that somehow feels refreshingly contemporary instead of being part of the past.

3. Only Lovers Left Alive. Just when I thought I could not tolerate another tale of fang-bearing bloodsuckers, along comes Jim Jarmusch’s delightfully offbeat spin on vampires that manages to be both utterly modern and moodily nostalgic in equal measure. As refined creatures of the night, Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are so delicious together, I wish they would host a TV talk show. Nighttime, of course.

4. Boyhood. A 12-year experiment that could have gone horribly awry but instead came out miraculously perfect. The underappreciated Richard Linklater, whose “School of Rock” and “Bernie” are among the best unsung American films of this still-young century, once again displays a keen understanding of human nature and a way of bringing out the best in dedicated actors.

5. Le Week-end. Director Roger Michell fully redeems himself after his misguided FDR flick with this barbed ye wistful intimate study of longtime British marrieds celebrating their anniversary in Paris. Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan bravely let it all hang out – the good, the bad and the hard to watch – while Jeff Goldblum puts in a very Goldblum-y late-movie appearance and nearly steals the show.

6. Force Majeure. Speaking of marriage, this farcical yet scathing portrait of a family man who manages to alienate his wife and children in the aftermath of a near-disaster during a skiing getaway is impossibly Swedish but is all the better for it.

7. Two Days, One Night. A winner from Belgium’s Dardenne brothers about a woman on the edge forced to beg her co-workers to sacrifice a bonus in order to save her job will leave you laughing, crying and fearing for the worse. But Marion Cotillard and the rest of the cast bring a heart-wrenching humanity to her journey that is summed up by a car-radio sing-along to the ‘60s hit “Gloria.”

8. The Drop. Tom Hardy pulled off quite an admirable solo stunt in Locke by doing all his acting behind the wheel of a car. But I found his dark horse Bob Saginowski, a deceptively gentle, dog-loving and somewhat slow-witted Brooklyn bartender, to be an even more fascinating character study as he gets in deep with a gang of cutthroat Chechen gangsters. A detective wise to his ways sums him up with this observation: “They never see you coming, do they Bob?” With a solid posthumous performance by James Gandolfini and a proudly old-fashioned crime-thriller script by Dennis Lehane, prepare to be riveted

9. The Babadook. Old-school scares that prey on new-age fears. As a stretched-to-the-limit single mother struggles to keep her disturbed young son under control, she makes the mistake of pulling a strange book off the shelf and unleashing a force in her home that threatens her sanity and the boy’s life. Things go bump, bang and boom in the night with a nerve-wracking aplomb that hasn’t been seen since 1973’s The Exorcist.

10. Into the Woods. The Sondheim-ites will likely cry foul over Disney’s leavening of the despair and violence of that marked this fairy-tale-based stage musical’s second half, which upends the notion of “happily ever after.” But the cast is more than up to the task – especially Meryl Streep’s droll take on an evil crone and Chris Pine’s highly amusing turn as a smug, arrogant Prince Charming. And the music is as glorious as ever.

Bill Desowitz:

1. “Nightcrawler”
I call Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut “Millennial Noir,” and it got under my skin like no other movie this year. “Peeping Tom” meets “The King of Comedy,” with charismatic sociopath turned TV cameraman Jake Gyllenhaal shooting his way to infamy from West Hollywood to the West Valley as a grisly voyeur of mayhem and murder. 

2. “Birdman”
Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu’s POV experiment about Michael Keaton’s pseudo Batman losing his mind is a work of comic genius. Keaton, Ed Norton, and Emma Stone are spot-on and Chivo Lubezki leverages his Oscar-winning “Gravity” experience for something even bolder and thematically richer.
3. “Boyhood”
If we thought Richard Linklater’s “Before” trilogy was bold, the 12-year real-time rite of passage of “Boyhood” is even more ambitious, tapping into life’s disappointments and the culmination of seemingly inconsequential events that shape our lives — for better or worse. We actually get to witness the actors age as the characters do, especially Ellar Coltrane as Mason, seen from age seven to 19. Imagine if François Truffaut made the first two Antoine Doinel movies in such a fashion.
4. “Ida”
Arguably the best film of the year, Pawel Pawlikowski’s devasting view of postwar Polland is a black and white wonder of faith and guilt filtered through memory that’s right up there with Andrzej Wajda and Ingmar Bergman. As the director suggests, it’s more poetry than rhetoric and, to quote Jean Renoir: “Everyone has their reasons,” which is history’s greatest lesson.
5. “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”
Matt Reeves has made “The Godfather” of the “Apes” franchise, taking a dramatic leap and coaxing the best out of Andy Serkis and Weta Digital. He takes through the looking glass with Caesar in a tug-of-war between violence and compassion. And we are now on course to revisit the original in a totally new way that’s organic to this saga.
6. The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Wes Anderson lovingly revisits Stefan Zweig and Max Ophuls in this brilliantly absurd and touching black comedy. Ralph Fiennes desperately tries to turn back the clock in sustaining his Grand Illusion amid war, vulgarity, and degradation. If only life could go on forever in this opulent dreamscape: a pink hotel with a dollop of yellow butter cream and the sugary Mendel’s bakery.
7. The Imitation Game”
Morten Tyldum has made the most unconventional biopic, flashing forward and back to decode the enigmatic mathematician, scientist, and spy Alan Turing (the ubiquitous Benedict Cumberbatch at his best). It’s the story of an outsider and the celebration of being different and discovering your humanity. But it’s also a sad, cautionary tale of anonymous heroism and state-sponsored humility.
8. Gone Girl”
David Fincher loosens up a bit with more satire and reality in this narcissistic Punch and Judy show for Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike. It truly is “Fight Club” for marriage and we can all relate. And we get three movies in one: His story, her story, and the police procedural. It’s love and death, Fincher style.
9. A Most Violent Year”
J.C. Chandor channels Sidney Lumet for this brilliant neo noir from ’81 about gangsters controlling the fuel supply in New York. Poor Oscar Isaac: the idealistic and dapper entrepreneur who desperately tries to stay above the violence and corruption. But wife Jessica Chastain knows better about the rules of the game. “The futility of good intentions,” as Robert Towne says.
10. Unbroken”
Imperfect yet inspirational, the miraculous true-life story of Louis Zamperini reminds us of what we’re capable of in the face of defeat or death. Angelina Jolie finds beauty in this dance of light and dark, and cinematographer Roger Deakins delivers his most exquisite-looking work yet to evoke a sense of spiritual transcendence in Zamperini’s survival story. 

Honorable Mention:
“Interstellar,” “The Theory of Everything,” “Black or White,” “Cavalry,” “Into the Woods”

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